Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to Act Human: Advice for Mitt Romney From Inside the Actors Studio

  • 5/15/12 at 10:55 AM

INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO -- Pictured:(l-r) James Lipton, Judd Apatow -- Bravo Photo: Chris HastonA special imaginary edition of Inside the Actors Studio.

A few months ago, Brian McFadden’s weekly comic strip in the Sunday Timesoffered ways for Mitt Romney to improve his image. One panel showed him with me on the set of Inside the Actors Studio, under the heading “Take Acting Lessons to Appear More Relatable.”
Initially amused by this unsolicited enlistment, I’ve found myself returning spontaneously and with increasing frequency to the task, sometimes starting awake in the middle of the night with acting advice for the candidate. Convinced that the only way to exorcise this possession is to confront it, I offer the following counsel.
In this media-saturated era, the line between politics and performance has virtually vanished, and the public is having a hard time believing Mr. Romney’s persona (as in dramatis personae) — a potentially fatal flaw for any actor, but especially for a presidential candidate. Why doesn’t Mr. Romney’s audience believe him?
Perhaps it starts with his laugh, a device he employs at odd moments and in a most peculiar way. (The public thinks that crying is the acid test of the actor, but in fact “laughing” is much harder — and Mr. Romney hasn’t mastered it.)
Listen to his laugh.  It resembles the flat “Ha! Ha! Ha!” that appears in comic-strip dialogue balloons. But worse – far worse – it is mirthless. Mr. Romney expects us to be amused, although he himself is not amused. Freeze the frame, cover the bottom of his face with your hand, and study his eyes. There’s no pleasure there, no amusement. Genuine laughter is triggered only by, and is completely dependent on, shared perception. That’s why we say we “get” a joke.
But Mr. Romney is too busy working to share anything – like the vaudevillian tapping so desperately that he’s covered with what performers call “flop sweat.” In rehearsal, I once heard a director say to an overeager actor, “Relax, you’ve got the job.” Now that Mr. Romney seems to have wrapped up the nomination, that counsel may apply here.
Constantin Stanislavski, the patron saint of the Actors Studio, who preached that relaxation was the sine qua non of acting, would have thrown up his hands in despair at the sight of Governor Romney stalking stiffly onto the public stage.  Mr. Romney’s not alone in this robot world. Two generations of politicians, political commentators, and TV personalities seem to have been instructed that no one will listen to them unless they accompany their remarks by locking their elbows to their sides and waving their rigid forearms about like marionettes being wielded by invisible strings.
For a positive example of port de bras (the ballet term for use of the arms), I recommend the political Pavlova, Sarah Palin, who, on the speakers’ podium, with a script in hand and no obligation to answer troublesome questions, is so relaxed in what Stanislavski called “the given circumstance” that her arms, moving gracefully and freely, are a constant pleasure to watch (with the sound turned on or off, depending on your persuasion).
Another of Mr. Romney’s acting sins is sartorial. Calling Wardrobe! The combination of neatly creased blue jeans below and crisp white dress shirt or bespoke jacket above is a failed mash-up of bowling alley and country club. Inauthenticity is, after all, today’s topic, and I suspect that if Mr. Romney weren’t running for president, he wouldn’t be caught dead in that mismatch.
When challenged on the illegal immigrants caring for his lawn, Mr. Romney responded: “We went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.” While a few illegal immigrants on the lawn might not faze private citizen Romney, “running for office” requires a separate set of rules and, more important, a separate persona.
It’s that “other” Romney that seems to be confusing the public, and that launched my assignment in the Times. As worthy as the real Romney may be, he is not, has never been, and never will be the common man, and when he assumes the role in a crowd, his evident discomfort tells us that this guy doesn’t fly coach, much less go Greyhound, and, without the demands of “running for office,” wouldn’t be spending much time with these people who do.
Of course he’s within his rights. As he’s taken to pointing out, there’s nothing wrong with being rich. But one wouldn’t cast Henry Fonda in Bringing Up Baby or Cary Grant in The Grapes of Wrath. Miscasting matters – in drama and politics – and absent a miraculous Brando-level acting performance, Mr. Romney’s going to continue to fall victim to self-consciousness, the actor’s worst enemy.
Ronald Reagan wasn’t an authentic common man either, but he was an authentic SAG-card-carrying actor. For one unforgettable afternoon, I directed him and Bob Hope in the Lincoln bedroom, and he acquitted himself with patently genuine warmth and skill – to the point of exchanging jokes so blue, during a break to relight for his exit, that none of them can be recorded here. He and Bob roared with laughter, and the laughs were real, unaffected, and authentic enough to merit the complimentary label “Reaganesque.”
The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him. Even with all his theatrical experience, he never essayed a dual role. So, for what it’s worth, my advice to Mr. Romney is this: Since the evidence indicates that you lack the skills to simulate what you're not, you should stick to typecasting and go with what you’ve got and who you are. It’s not just your best option, sir, it’s your only one.
It goes without saying that all of this advice conveniently ignores my own onstage sins, which resemble, I fear, Will Ferrell’s too-accurate portrayal of meas an especially gloomy funeral director on a particularly slow day.  But that’s a subject for another, even sterner lesson.
James Lipton is the creator and host of Inside the Actors Studio on Bravo, the founding dean of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, and produced cultural events in the Carter White House.

James Lipton on the Debate: A New Romney Debuts

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By Joe Coscarelli

Following up on his acting advice for Mitt Romney, delivered right here on Daily Intel, "master thespian" James Lipton reviewed last night's debate performances on NOW With Alex Wagner. Romney, he explained, has been "that boss who makes lame jokes at which we are compelled to laugh at the peril of our jobs," but "last night he more or less erased that image." For Obama, Lipton added, "split-screens are dangerous," describing the damaging ways "he looked down, he looked away, he looked uncomfortable." After all, "This is not politics," Lipton said. "This is performance."

"It was the face-off in 'High Noon,'" the "Inside the Actors Studio" 

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Inside the Actors studio hostJames Lipton saw shades of film history in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, sayingPresident Obama was like a hero from a western.

Appearing on MSNBC’sHardball With Chris Matthewson Wednesday, Lipton took note of a skirmish between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, in which Romney asserted the president delayed on calling an attack on an American consulate in Libya a terrorist attack. Obama told Romney to proceed with his train of thought, and the Republican’s statement was then deemed inaccurate by moderatorCandy Crowley.

“It was the face-off in High Noon. And the President of the United States was Gary Cooper,” Lipton toldChris Matthews. “At that moment, he became a hero, I think”

Lipton also characterized Romney as disrespectful for telling Obama “you’ll get your chance” when the president attempted to break in on Romney’s comments during a discussion about drilling on federal land.

“It is rude. It’s inexcusable,” Lipton said. “I think it’s a very, very sad day when the presidency, which has been under fire since Nixon — and particular this president — can be treated this way by someone who is an American citizen.”

Lipton previously appeared on MSNBC to critiqueClint Eastwood’s Republican National Convention speech, which he gave poor marks, saying it was “not his best performance.”

Inside the Actors Studio, currently in its 19th season, airs on Bravo.

James Lipton on Mitt Romney: ‘He’s a boss’

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By KEVIN ROBILLARD | 10/23/12 1:44 PM EDT

After months of trying to pin down the “phantom” that is Mitt Romney, James Lipton said Tuesday he had finally located “the real Romney:” He’s a boss.

“What the challenger is offering us, in the end, is a boss,” the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” host declared on MSNBC’s “Now With Alex Wagner.” “We’ve talked about the semiotics of it before. There are lots of nicer words for a boss: CEO … job creator — with that wonderful second word that has kind of a religious aura to it, capitalize that ‘C’ and a halo appears.”
“He’s a boss,” Lipton continued. “It’s the common word for the common thing. The boss can be benign, he can be malevolent, he can be revered, he can be loathed. But that’s really what he’s offering us.”

Lipton, who has made a series of appearances on MSNBC to evaluate the debates from the perspective of a drama critic, said his “adventure” to find the Republican nominee’s core made him sympathize with President Barack Obama.

“Romney is as elusive as a phantom,” Lipton said. “The minute you think you’ve got him pegged, he disappears in a puff of smoke and mirrors. I think that’s annoying to a debater. When you prepare for a debate and somebody else shows up, it’s very disconcerting.”

‘Inside the Actors Studio’ host gives advice to Mitt: Stop being inauthentic!  

James Lipton has some advice for Mitt Romney: Be yourself.

The creator and host of Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio” believes the public has a hard time believing the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s persona because he comes across as inauthentic.

Lipton, whose own delivery Will Ferrell lampooned regularly on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” says the former Massachusetts governor’s audience would relate better to him if he simply relaxed and presented his genuine self.

“Well now that it appears you’re going to get the Republican nomination, I would propose to you that you relax,” Lipton advised Romney in a video posted on New York Magazine’s website. “Only then, can you begin to get in touch with yourself, and only when you get in touch with yourself will your audience begin to be in touch with you.

“That seems to be the problem,” Lipton added.

Though voters give the White House hopeful high marks for his perceived management skills, they are nearly twice as likely (60% to 31%) to say President Obama is the more likable of the two presidential candidates, according to a Gallup poll released last week.

Lipton’s suggestions for Romney include learning to laugh more naturally and losing the “failed mash-up” of pressed blue jeans and white dress shirt the Republican tends to sport on the stump.

According to Lipton, Romney’s best chance to connect with voters is to be who he is in real-life — and to stop trying to come across as “a common man.”

The host of the Emmy-nominated series suggests Romney emulate former President Ronald Reagan, who appeared in more than 50 films and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

“Ronald Reagan wasn’t an authentic common man either, but he was an authentic SAG-card-carrying actor,” wrote Lipton in a column that accompanies the video. “The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him.”

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